Organizations continue to rapidly adopt cloud computing to benefit from the promise of better scalability, improved agility, and increased efficiency.
Across more than 25,000 cloud services, each company creates in excess of 3 billion events each month including logins, edits, deletes, shares, and uploads, according to the 2019 Cloud Adoption and Risk report.
While cloud service providers like Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) continue to enhance security services to protect their cloud environments (security of the cloud), it is also the responsibility of customers to secure their environments and data within the cloud environment (security in the cloud).
Cloud-based application security testing is a growing concern, as most of the applications in the cloud today store sensitive information or personal data. Sadly, all too many people holding responsibility within organizations mistakenly believe that their applications are secure merely by the fact that they are deployed in a cloud environment. This could not be further from the truth.
What is Cloud-Based Application Security Testing?
Automated cloud-based application security testing has emerged as a new testing model wherein security-as-a-service (SaaS) providers perform on-demand application security testing in the cloud. In this security testing process, the applications are tested using a scanner, solution, or tools hosted in the cloud.
Cloud-based application security testing typically covers the testing of data security, application functions, browser compatibility, end-to-end business workflows, etc.
Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) in the cloud enables companies to deploy resources to perform a wide range of security and performance testing for a potentially lower cost compared to onsite testing. This is useful if you want to place your own scanners in your own environment.
While both traditional and cloud-based application security testing have similar goals, the latter can provide a more cost-effective, faster, and scalable solution but other important factors need to be considered with these automated scans.
There are several ways in which cloud-based application security testing differs from traditional application security testing. including:
Cloud-Based Application Security Testing is Better for:
- Testing applications that are already deployed in the cloud (if the scanner is in the same environment as the application).
- Low risk applications as cloud based application security testing largely involves automation and can overlook security vulnerabilities, it is better to use it for low-risk applications that do not contain sensitive information.
- Organizations with time restrictions and stringent budgets as organizations can rapidly deploy new resources and tear them down quickly when not needed to avoid incurring further costs.
Traditional Application Security Testing is Better for:
- Testing in-house developed applications that are developed on-premise.
- Medium-to-high-risk applications that contain sensitive information as traditional application security testing uses a combination of both automated and manual security testing. This reduces the chances of missing out on security vulnerabilities and gives more accurate results .
- Invoking expert security guidance
As more applications move to the cloud, companies are not just looking to secure their applications but also to secure applications in a scalable and faster manner.
The application to be tested is either uploaded or a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is entered into an online portal. In some cases, authentication workflows are provided by the customer and recorded by the security testing tool or scanner.
For internal cloud-based applications, the security testing scanner or tool needs authentication privileges to access the application. Then the security testing team can customize, configure, and initiate the security test.
Once the scanning has been done, the tool or scanner provides test results with insights and detailed information about the application’s security.
Importance of Cloud-Based Application Security Testing
The security of cloud-based applications is highly critical to ensure that the data it holds is secure. Given the increasing number of cybercrimes taking place, an efficient security testing model has become a necessity.
Enterprises are adopting cloud-based application security testing as it offers flexibility and versatile testing platforms. It empowers businesses to utilize testing resources more efficiently and cost-effectively.
The primary objective of automated cloud-based application security testing is to secure the application from potential cyber attackers who may exploit vulnerabilities and conduct data breaches. It also helps detect possible security risks in the system and helps developers fix those security issues through coding.
However, since cloud-based application security testing is largely automated and doesn’t really do much with manual testing, it is much likely to miss security vulnerabilities or give false positives. That’s why it’s only recommended for low-risk applications that do not contain sensitive information.
Key Factors to Consider for a Cloud-Based Application Security Testing Strategy
Cloud-based application security testing has its own set of challenges.
To name a few:
If the scanner is running from the cloud, your risks are being identified and stored in the cloud. If you don’t trust this sensitive data being there, that is a risk that you need to acknowledge.
Businesses leverage the on-demand service of cloud services, but it is crucial that while cloud computing services are easily accessible, they should also provide support and integration of other tools. Additionally, they should follow security frameworks and standards to ensure data protection and facilitate the process of compliance for the client.
Lack of Cloud Testing Security Standards
Currently, there’s no universal standard method of cloud security testing. There is an array of tools and techniques for cloud based application security testing. While one cloud service provider might focus on some specific aspects of the cloud, others wouldn’t consider them to be as critical. It really depends on the client’s requirements and their service provider.
One of the more important reasons some organizations prefer cloud-based application security testing is that it is highly scalable.
Resources and testing processes used in cloud environments should be robust enough to accommodate changes such as configuration changes, updates, or changes in the size of the organization.
Both vertical and horizontal scalability should be taken into account while performing application security testing. If there is a lack of scalability, it can impact the testing process and lead to issues related to the accuracy, efficiency and speed of the testing process.
Thus, scalability is an essential parameter that should be taken care of while performing cloud-based application security testing.
Today, companies have global offices, often with remote workers. Every team member needs to stay connected with one another to effectively work together.
The tool/solution has to be made accessible online, in any browser, at any point in time. They should be able to access a centralized dashboard that provides features for working together seamlessly during the security testing process.
One of the key objectives for organizations while choosing cloud-based application security testing is its ability to accelerate the testing process and bring speed.
The cloud-based application security testing process has to be quick, efficient, and provide a short turnaround time. It should also be capable of running parallel scans from distributed locations. This would be highly beneficial in Agile and DevOps environments, where teams are often co-located.
Quality of Testing
If the testing process is not up to the benchmarks and industry standards, it could jeopardize the entire testing process and its results. Thus, it is imperative for organizations to ensure the quality of testing in cloud environments helps ensure the maximum benefits of cloud-based testing.
The results from the testing process should be accurate and actionable. A single data breach could be detrimental to the company, especially for small businesses or SMBs (small-to-mid-sized businesses) that typically cannot invest large amounts of resources to repair the damage from the data breach. But remember, with any automated testing, there will be false positives and false negatives, you need to involve expert manual testing too.
Organizations often look to cloud testing for cost effectiveness. But with all automated testing, there are issues and while the automated testing CAN be less expensive than on-premise testing, you will frequently sacrifice the customization capabilities that will yield higher accuracy results.
So just be aware of what you achieve and what you lose by using these solutions. You will need to complement this testing with expert assessments to double check the configurations of these scans and may still need to run more customized automated scans on premise when customization is lacking in the cloud platforms.
As with all application scanning, the goal is to reduce risks. Cloud application testing does perform high volume on-demand scans and that is great. But if they are not fully customizable, then you will have false negatives and may have excessive false positives too.
This is where expert customization and/or outsourced application scanning by experts may prove to be an alternate approach. But don’t buy a cloud application scanner and make that the cornerstone of your application security program. More is needed.
Wrapping Up and Looking Ahead
Cloud-based application security testing can be very beneficial as an element in your application security program. But it cannot be all that you have.
Before you adopt it, make sure that you consider the key factors mentioned above as they play an important role in determining the success of your testing strategy. Building a good application security testing strategy may take considerable time and effort, but it’s worth the results.
Are you looking to conduct application security testing? If so, let us know and we will help you.